England

Donald Simpson Bell: Tribute match to Victoria Cross footballer

Donald Bell in his football kit and uniform Image copyright The Green Howards Museum
Image caption Donald Simpson Bell was playing professional football for Bradford Park Avenue when the war started

A football match has taken place in France in honour of the only English professional player to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

When World War One broke out, Donald Simpson Bell was playing football for Bradford Park Avenue.

He left the club to fight, saying he was "duty-bound to join the ranks."

The team, featuring players from the Yorkshire Regiment and Bradford Park Avenue, beat French side Albert 3-2 on Saturday afternoon.

The Harrogate-born footballer was awarded the VC for his part in knocking out a machine-gun post on the fifth day of the Battle of the Somme.

Image copyright Harrogate Grammar School
Image caption According to the Professional Footballer's Association, Bell was an "outstanding player who would surely have graced the international arena"

In a tweet, Bradford Park Avenue player Ryan Sewell said he would remember the trip and the people he met for a very long time.

The game followed a number of other events including a service at Bell's Redoubt, with a laying of wreaths at the Contalmaison war memorial.

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In France: Harry Gration, BBC Look North

I have been to the Somme many times, but never experienced such emotion as I did this weekend.

The celebrations involved 28 members of the Bell family. They came from New Zealand, South Africa, Canada as well as the UK.

The Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards Association and representatives of his football club, Bradford Park Avenue, made the weekend even more poignant.

The last post drew tears and when his former school, Harrogate Grammar, led by its head and two pupils, laid their wreath, some found it overwhelming.

Donald Bell's sacrifice is preserved now in a formal memorial called Bell's Redoubt a few yards from the village on the Somme in the exact spot he lost his life.

We will remember him, and the hundreds and thousands who lost their lives on the Somme.


Image caption Many of Bell's relatives attended the events - some travelling from as far away as New Zealand

Speaking about Bell, who was chosen to lead dangerous bombing missions on German defences, officials from the Yorkshire Regiment said he was a "superb footballer and athlete", chosen for his athleticism and leadership.

He was described by one of his comrades as having the "courage of a lion" - a man who found ways of making life easier for his comrades.

On 10 July 1916, Second Lieutenant Bell, 25, was killed making a similar attempt on another gun placement at Contalmaison.

His comrade wrote: "His death was greatly deplored, though grief was qualified by pride in the fact that he had met the death he would have wished."

You can see more from the events in France on Inside Out Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on BBC One at 19:30 BST on Monday.

Image copyright The Green Howards Museum
Image caption Five days after the events which won him the VC, Bell made another attempt to take a German gun, this time being shot in the head.

Image copyright Getty Images

The Battle of the Somme

  • Began on 1 July 1916 and was fought along a 15-mile front near the River Somme in northern France
  • 19,240 British soldiers died on the first day - the bloodiest day in the history of the British army
  • The British captured just three square miles of territory on the first day
  • At the end of hostilities, five months later, the British had advanced just seven miles and failed to break the German defence
  • In total, there were over a million dead and wounded on all sides, including 420,000 British, about 200,000 from France and an estimated 465,000 from Germany

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